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How to Help Your Child to Develop a Skin Care Routine

When children are young, the skin care routine that is so important for the treatment and prevention of flares of atopic dermatitis (AD) falls to the parents and caregivers. However, as children grow older, the responsibility of the care of their skin can shift to them. In fact, teaching older children how to responsibly care for their skin, treat acute signs of AD, and prevent future flares is important for their health and well-being. While many children outgrow AD and experience remission, some children experience recurrences of AD into adulthood. Teaching older children with AD healthy skin care habits now can help them reduce symptoms and learn how to manage their condition.

Bathing or showering

Older children who bathe themselves should be aware that warm, not hot, water is best for AD. Hot water can trigger itching and dry out skin and should be avoided. Daily bathing is best to help hydrate the skin as well as remove any bacteria or other microorganisms that can cause infection. Soaking baths for 10-20 minutes are recommended to rehydrate the skin. Baths and showers should be kept short. Cleaning the skin should be done with a mild soap that is fragrance free and with a neutral or low pH, or with a non-soap cleanser, as harsh soaps can trigger AD.1-3

Moisturizing the skin

Children should be encouraged to use moisturizers regularly, as the use of moisturizers is one of the most important aspects of caring for skin with AD, regardless of the severity of the disease. Moisturizers help repair the damaged skin barrier of skin affected by AD and help increase the hydration of the skin. Treating dry skin with moisturizers can also help control the intense itch caused by AD. Moisturizers should be applied often enough that dry skin is minimal. It is especially important to apply moisturizers immediately after bathing, when the skin is still damp. This helps seal the water into the skin.4

Avoiding irritants

Irritants are substances that irritate the skin. Children may be aware of some substances that irritate their skin.

It’s also important for them to be aware of common irritants to avoid, such as:

  • Wool clothing
  • Man-made or synthetic fibers, such as rayon, acrylic, nylon, polyester, spandex, or modacrylic (often used in children’s sleepwear to be flame-resistant)
  • Soaps or bubble bath, particularly those that change the skin’s natural pH
  • Some laundry detergents
  • Cleaning solutions, including dish soap, disinfectants, or surface cleaners
  • Cosmetics
  • Perfumes
  • Chemicals like chlorine, mineral oil, or solvents
  • Dust or sand
  • Cigarette smoke5-7

Avoiding irritants may involve wearing clothes from natural fibers, avoiding certain perfumes or cosmetics, and wearing rubber gloves when cleaning with detergents.8

Avoiding scratching

The itch associated with AD is the most prevalent and distressing symptom, and both the symptom of itching and the scratching it provokes significantly contribute to the burden of AD. Children with AD should be advised to avoid the triggers for itch, including dry skin, hot baths or showers, sweat left on the skin, emotional stress, and irritants. Nails should be kept short to reduce further damage to areas of skin affected by AD. There are also medications that can help reduce itching and inflammation.9

Encouraging medication usage

As children get to an older age, they may become responsible for applying their own medications. Parents can help encourage proper usage and remind children of the importance of using medications as directed to minimize flare-ups and severity of AD.

Emily Downward | June 2017
  1. Chiang C, Eichenfield LF. Quantitative assessment of combination bathing and moisturizing regimens on skin hydration in atopic dermatitis. Pediatr Dermatol. 2009 May-Jun;26(3):273-8.
  2. Lyons JJ, Milner JD, Stone KD. Atopic dermatitis in children: clinical features, pathophysiology, and treatment. Immunol Allergy Clin North Am. 2015;35:161-183.
  3. Medscape. Accessed online on 4/10/17 at
  4. Eichenfield LF, Tom, WL, Berger TG, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of atopic dermatitis. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014;71:116-32.
  5. Atopic dermatitis fast facts, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Accessed online on 4/4/17 at
  6. Man made fiber, Britannica. Accessed online on 4/4/17 at
  7. National Eczema Association. Accessed online on 4/4/17 at
  8. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Accessed online on 4/4/17 at
  9. Yarbrough KB, Neuhaus KJ, Simpson EL. The effects of treatment on itch in atopic dermatitis. Dermatol Ther. 2013;26:110-119.